These notes on SmugMug are based on a deeper evaluation I did in early December. They should be read in conjunction with my previous notes on SmugMug. I looked at SmugMug Standard. The price of SmugMug Power and Pro make it too expensive for someone who isn’t earning a living from photography.
Each bullet point has been given a general rating; I reckon you can figure out the rating system explanation.
- + SmugMug has been around for a few years.
- + The web reviews I found seem very positive.
- + A concept of introductory discount vouchers exist, reducing the price by $5/year or more.
- ++ The API has active development, with active support forms.
- - The bug reporting interface seemed to be a forum, which seems the wrong technology for a bug database.
- + Python wrappers to API available
- + Active support forums
- - Custom domain names are only available for Power or Pro levels. Redirects will be required from old site.
- - Other customisations (including changing headers and footers) only available for Power or Pro levels.
- I found there there was an old controversy about the privacy of SmugMug photos.
- - There was an issue to begin with.
- + There was an open response; the criticisms were highlighted and linked in the SmugMug Blog. They weren’t ignored or hidden.
- - The response revealed that the SmugMug team didn’t seem to grasp the full issue; it was dismissed too easily.
- + Later releases addressed the issues, so hopefully everyone is now happy.
- - A user reported that SmugMug was blocked by some corporate filters? (e.g. as recently as six weeks ago [Ed: from the date that this article was first written in Dec 2008], Deakin University blocked SmugMug.)
- - The photographer is not recorded by the site. I tried including the information in the EXIF data in the photo, but it still wasn’t displayed (and certainly not prominently enough; I don’t want to claim credit for the work of other photographers. I have their permission to publish with attribution.) I guess I need to add it to the description.
- + Users can comment on photos or entire albums.
- ++ Despite my earlier claim, it is possible to search for a particular tag within my albums only. So only the Bob that I know will appear when searching for Bob.
- - View metrics are by album, not by photo.
- +++ Proactive support team (including CEO) reading blogs and forums, volunteering assistance.
- ++ Active community of add-ons, including Facebook integration.
- + PhotoShop Bridge integration (although I am not convinced I would use this technique.)
- + Free lifetime subscription for API tool developers. Perhaps I could come up with a tool useful to me and others to get free subscription?
- ~ While the web-site was objectively fairly quick to respond, I found the workflow a bit slow to step through; too much many steps with noticeable delay between gives too many distraction points. Probably an opportunity for a desktop tool or command line tool that processes in the background to make it feel faster to do bulk editing. I didn’t assess the existing third-party desktop tools, but they may already solve this.
- ~ Found some trivial bugs (e.g. if emails don’t match in registration, location of caption screen on dual monitors, couldn’t undo mistaken thumbs up vote).
- - Two separate ratings systems; mouse-hover on photo to give thumbs up/down, or make a comment to rate 1-5 stars. Why the conflict? (Note: Neither lets the owner decide on a rating, for the purposes of filtering.)
- ++ Can select the crop for the thumbnail (This was one of the desirable requirements which I thought you couldn’t do, but I was corrected.)
- - It offers to let you to fix the “ratio” of the thumbnail crop, which would be useful, but in practice that option appears to set the absolute size of the thumbnail crop, which isn’t.
- - I discovered that I have a strange habit. Imagine I have a drop-down menu, and one of the items is the title of a submenu. To open that submenu, all you need to do is move the mouse over it. I have discovered that I often unnecessarily click on the submenu title anyway. I think, sometime in the distant past, I used a WIMP system where clicking encouraged the submenu to be a little more persistent, and stay open even if your mouse operations are less than accurate. The click is simply ignored in Windows. In SmugMug, it causes the menu to close, which is jarring for me.
- - There are stats on how many page hits your album received, but I don’t see one per photo. I read that some people were getting logs of IP addresses that hit particular photos, but I didn’t come across that functionality. (Maybe Power/Pro only?)
- - I have a dual-monitor set-up [Ed: had a dual-monitor set-up. I haven't got it, yet, for the new machine.] I tried the Slideshow on the smaller monitor, and I noticed it didn’t use the whole screen. The photos were smaller than necessary, and over to the left. I tried again on the larger monitor and it worked perfectly.
- + I noticed that if a tag is just a number, it is stored but not displayed. That may offer a way of hiding information in a photo record for tools.
After being corrected in a comment about the robustness of the privacy features, I wanted to investigate them further.
I found the SmugMug implementation of privacy to be sufficient, but not impressive. I don’t like it, but I think I can make it work. I didn’t try all the options, but I read about them.
The first option is whether to permit Google and its fellow search bots access to the albums, on a per-album basis.
The second option is whether to permit fellow SmugMug users the ability to access the albums, again on a per-album basis. Logically, this should be the same as above (For a large enough user-base, SmugMug users approximate the general public.) I can concede that there may be special advantages, if SmugMug has competitions or the like.
The third option is whether to display the gallery in the list of galleries on your home page.
If you say No to the first three options, you effectively get a URL which is undiscoverable, but can be shared around to the people you want to see it.
The fourth option is to add a password, so viewers need to know that too. (Arguably, your undiscoverable URL is your password, but this would work for albums where you are happy to admit they exist, but not necessarily let everyone see the contents. Perhaps “Photos of the birth”?)
With one password and/or URL per album, it is going to be tricky to keep track for you and your users. A solution appears to be to group your albums together as “Sharegroups”. Then you can share one URL with a group of people, and they can see many unlisted albums. So, all your Vegas trips can be seen by the same set of buddies.
Talking of buddies, it is possible to tag other SmugMug users as friends or as family, but given the site isn’t free, they are very unlikely to have accounts.
There is one more option: hide owner. I think this is so you can host your favourite photoshopped image on SmugMug, then post a link to it on Fark.com, without all the other Farkers poking around your family photos, looking for fodder.
This model seems rather complex and missing any support for actually tracking which individuals have what access.
For example, should I add this photo to this sharegroup? Depends whether her ex-boyfriend has the password. Oooh, I can’t remember whether we shared it with him when he was still around.
Let’s check against the new list of scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Permission To Publish – Passed. Say no to the first 3 options, and share the secret URL with your friends.
- Scenario 2: Clashing Worlds – Feasible, but not great. Say no to the first 3 options. Share the URL (and optionally password) with your friends. Keep track of who it has been sent to and hope your friends don’t blab.
- Scenario 3: Not of General Interest – Passed. Say no to the first 3 options.
- Scenario 4: Ghost of Photographs Past – Passed. Say no to the first 2 options.
So, despite the fact I am not a fan, I have to admit, I can’t think of any scenarios where it wouldn’t be sufficient.
While I continue to appreciate many of the technical decisions and the focus of the company, I feel that I wouldn’t be happy with SmugMug as a solution. I am giving up too much control and compromising on several desires while not getting much in the way of social networking benefits.
However, this shouldn’t be seen as a negative review. I would suggest that anyone who doesn’t have the same demands as me (particularly, they don’t have their own web-host already configured) give it serious consideration. It rated well amongst the third-party hosts